understanding copy in the digital era

digital is where it’s at and where it’s headed. in this new world, information bombards potential prospects from every turn, and to adapt, they’ve become selective in what earns their attention. as copywriters, it’s our job to keep up and engage a new, slightly more distracted audience.

for pointers on approaching the digital realm, The Copy Lab invited copywriter and brand strategist jean railla to share her insight on digital writing techniques.

working with computer

copy should be short, specific and straightforward
you have as few as three seconds to convince a user to keep reading. it’s imperative that a site is easy to navigate and quick to scan. to-the-point heads and subheads, bullets, pull quotes and graphics are all effective techniques for enhancing scannability. display key messaging in the upper left, where the eye goes first, and congregate important points from the top down.

engage your brand’s “influencers”
great success has been had when brands interact online with the people who love them. know your voice and stick with it to strengthen the connection to your audience. no detail is too small: don’t underestimate the power of personalizing your site’s feedback or error messages — they could provide even more opportunity for branded wordplay.

copywriter = tour guide
there is no beginning or end to the web, which means users can (and will) enter a site from other than its homepage. it’s up to the copywriter (you!) to provide direction and make it clear where or what readers should do next. CTAs should be short and clear: sign up today; request more information; download now.

consistency is a must-do
if you call it a cart instead of a shopping cart, make sure it appears that way everywhere. put together a vocab list and pull from it as you write — it will keep your copy on brand and help orient the user. avoid outdated “click here to…” directions and opt for action-oriented “learn more” with a link.

the digital landscape moves quickly…the most successful copywriters will keep pace. connect with other writers and creatives at The Copy Lab’s upcoming speed-date networking event on tuesday, april 16. reserve your spot now. it’s an event not to be missed.

–meredith clinton bell

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the humble hang tag

it’s there when I return home with my new clothes, no doubt a well-designed and colorful little reminder of what i’m about to enjoy. it’s not big enough to be too flashy or gaudy or cumbersome, and sometimes it’s in a clever shape that i simply have to admire: it’s the hang tag, which presents another opportunity to impart brand personality.

if you don’t pay attention to a hang tag, then it’s not pulling its branding weight, even if it is a lightweight. it should be your last reminder of the unique brand copy voice, graphic style and overall message. just as with direct mail or billboards, it can be oddly shaped and have strategic cut-outs, even a scent for tucking into a drawer as a clothes freshener (and brand reminder for the user). it can bring a smile to your face and remind you of a website. it can double as a luggage tag, or it can be made of seeded paper to present you with flowers or herbs later.

the next time you snip a tag off of something, take a closer look at it to see what it’s really saying. if it’s up to its task, then it’s a sweet little reminder of why you purchased the item.

— kim taylor

CL snapshot: brand strategist jean railla

jean

a flash interview with jean railla

brand strategist

three words that sum up your job:

impossible! what i say is that i am an observer and creator of culture.

[I’m a:]

published author

freelance copywriter, with an emphasis on digital and social tools

instructor on ‘brand writing’ and ‘copywriting for the web’

cultural producer for public radio’s word of mouth

food blogger mealbymeal.blogspot.com

passionate cook

the highlight of your career (so far!):Get Crafty

creating the online community getcrafty.com (no longer exists) and publishing Get Crafty: Hip Home Ec with Broadway Books (Random House)

working with Nike (at R/GA) on the launch of NIKEgoddess

rebranding PS3 with a team of fellow parents

teaching cooking to kindergartners…

the best advice you’ve ever been given:

don’t take it personally.

if you weren’t a creative, you’d be:

full-time blogger/writer

Hendricks Gincopy or campaigns you admire:

i love how seamless of a brand experience the Hendrick’s Gin has created.  I also admire how Starbuck’s has created a public space with their coffee houses.

best two reasons to attend your Copy Lab event:

i offer new ways of looking at interactive media.

gain a better understanding to how brands are allowing their consumers to shape what they do.

jean joins us tomorrow for a look at digital advertising and the disappearing line between brand and culture. sign up now!

from jean’s portfolio:

guest post: quickly learn the lingo of brandspeak

perk up your work with a word list

perk up your work with a word list

work on any account and you’ll quickly discover that every industry has a language all its own. on top of that, you’ll notice that every brand has its own special way of saying things, too.

when you’re writing for an account for a while, both brand and industry lingo become second nature. but when first starting a project, the words and phraseology of that trade may not be so obvious. and if you’re presented with a looming deadline, you’re going to need to learn the vernacular fast.

whenever i’ve been thrown into this situation, i’ve devised a little trick to get “word savvy” and build creative momentum. before ever writing a line of copy, i create a “words & phrases list.”

quite simply, i scour both the client’s and competitor’s websites and marketing materials, and jot down 50 to 100 industry-related words, phrases, and expressions for inspiration.
for instance, i recently started writing website copy for a brand of coffee. to avoid using the word “coffee” a gazillion times, my research provided me with alternatives such as blends, brews, roasts, beans, and grinds that i could sprinkle in.

and while i’m sure the coffee is “delicious,” it would be pretty boring if i kept describing it that generically. some alternative adjectives I came across for my list included aromatic, bold, balanced, complex, decadent, delicate, exotic, flavorful, full-bodied, handcrafted, indulgent, lush, premium, rich, satisfying, smooth, and seductive.

because coffee was not top of mind prior to starting this project, would these words have popped into my head without doing this research? probably some, but not all.
another good way to find helpful terminology is to Google industry-related news stories, and to choose the “related words” options at rhymezone.com and the OneLook.com dictionary.

putting the list into practice

during my first week, when assigned to write emails promoting a $5 sampler offer, i pulled out The List. With a menu of coffee-related words at my disposal, the process of generating strategically-sound headlines became that much easier. here’s the result:

SIP, SAVOR AND SAVE.
Try these blends for just $5 each.

GET BEANS FOR BEANS.
Find new favorites for just 5 bucks.

New Perk for New Customers:
BUY & TRY FOR JUST $5.

while wordplay like this may be frowned upon by some brands, others just love it. so know your client.

beyond words, are phrases. and if you’re working on an established brand, chances are, they have an established way of saying things. as writers, we should all strive to develop original and inventive copy. however, some clients are loathe to veer too far from their approved terminology, which they prefer to use again and again to “reinforce the brand.”
so, if in your brand word audit you see the same expressions used over and over again, you may want to throw them in here and there to put a smile on the client’s face. for this particular brand of coffee, pet phrases i massaged into the copy included:

– Distinctively rich, smooth taste that’s never bitter.
– Make your life rich and flavorful every day.
– Experience a uniquely luxurious coffee indulgence at home.

once you’ve compiled your word and phrase list, you then have a database of thought starters you can refer to whenever you need inspiration.

something to keep in mind: the word list may not be the best approach for highly conceptual projects, which initially, are less about words and more about big ideas. but when faced with fast turnaround for a brand or category that’s new to you, the word list could be just the thing to quickly get your creative juices flowing.

what writing tips and tricks work for you? share them here in the Copy Lab!

by mitch lemus, copywriterMitch

over the course of his copywriting career, mitch lemus (www.mitchlemus.com) has written about everything from automobiles to airlines, fast-food to fashion, and technology to travel at some of new york’s top agencies. accounts include Wendy’s Hamburgers (The Kaplan Thaler Group), Ford (Razorfish), and Citibank (Atmosphere BBDO). mitch has also worked directly with Barnes & Noble, American Express, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Capital One. when not getting people to buy, he hopes he can get them to laugh — reading his short stories, parodies and social satires on Pen & Pixel.

dispatches from ad school: meet elina of Miami Ad School

elina rudkovsky, our ad school blogger

introducing elina rudkovsky, our ‘dispatches from ad school’ blogger

i was first introduced to advertising at 19, after dating an art director who worked at GREY advertising. it wasn’t long after that, that i became enamored with an industry i knew almost nothing about except that everyone had a funky haircut, checked their blackberrys incessantly, and referred to themselves as “creative.” i always thought being “creative” meant that you didn’t hate the 45 minutes you spent in art class, or that you’ve been to every museum in new york city, by choice. looking back, i’m not sure what it was that i found appealing but i began to feverishly pursue advertising even after my relationship was over.

the truth is, i think i may have always been a “creative” despite my dislike for the MET (sorry, everyone). i am a writer, always have been. however, coming from a moderately conservative family, i was reluctant to deviate from the norm to become one, professionally. what was i going to write about? did i want to publish a book? was i ready to take on the role of starving artist? i wasn’t sure, but i did know that writing was a passion of mine that i couldn’t just give up on. for years i found comfort in the rips of an old leather couch harbored inside a neighborhood coffee shop, where i spent weekends curled up with my laptop, allowing my imagination to take me on adventures that only the power of the written word could.

i decided on the copywriting program at Miami Ad School after i realized that getting a job in advertising is like trying to have a child without a partner: sure there are ways around it, but ultimately you need a mate and in this case, a portfolio and an art director to bring it to life. starting Miami Ad was similar to starting kindergarten. everything was new, writing no longer seemed innate (wait till you get to Photoshop, it’s like learning how to walk again), and there’s a strong chance you might cry, maybe even on your first day. i’m serious.

during one of my first weeks at Miami Ad, a peer of mine said “we are all in this together” as we stood on a snowy stoop outside the building that is 10 jay st, waiting for our partner to show up to a group meeting. on a saturday! however, what she said was something that has always stuck with me. it has become my comforting go-to thought whenever chaos ensued, and chaos ensues a lot.

i could sit here and bore you with the technicalities that come with ad school and spew out words like “shop” (fancy ad word for agency), “spots” (fancy ad word for commercials/radio announcements), “pixels” (still don’t really know what this means), addy’s (advertising award), but it won’t really capture the essence of what this experience is all about. that’s what ad school is, in a nutshell, an experience. here’s the thing: you will work really hard and as result you will fall in love with your work and just as quickly you will begin to hate your work. you will get over it and move on. you will feel pressure. you will learn about rejection. you will become okay with rejection (or as ok as you can get) because criticism will motivate you to do better. you will get competitive. you will not become an asshole, and if you do become an asshole, do everyone else a favor and pick another career choice because nobody will want to work with you. you will become overwhelmed, and if you’re anything like me, an ” emotional neurotic wreck but funny and composed when necessary” (direct quote from one of my past instructors) you will cry, in the stairwell. but you will not be alone, and in that lies the silver lining. there will always be someone with you on that same stairwell, whether an instructor or a peer, reassuring you that can do it. whatever the “it” may be. i consider myself exceptionally lucky to have found a group of people that are (although in direct competition with me) incredibly supportive, making life seemingly unimaginable without them.

if there’s anything that i hope you take away from this post, it is that ad school is not just an environment where you go to work on your book, but rather a place where you will learn of the greater picture. from concepts, to brands, and yourself as a person, your mind will shift perspective and grow. for me, it’s been a challenging albeit a life-altering experience thus far that i know will be hard to say goodbye to come next december, and i hope it is the same for you.

by elina rudkovsky

about the author: When Elina isn’t writing for or about advertising, she is with her therapist talking about it. Check her out at ElinaRudkovsky.com

being social in a digital world: tips for writers on social media strategy

social media is meant to be just that — social. as a writer, having a solid strategy for tweeting, commenting and posting in the online arena can help build your personal brand, your network, and it can attract potential employers and clients.

at sign

so what are you waiting for? it’s great to follow others, but it’s also smart to get out of the shadows and interact. as you wade through the waters of going social, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • before simply posting your every whim, outline a strategy. which platforms will you use? will you have time to post enough to keep followers engaged? how personal are you willing to get?
  • take note of what YOU like reading on your news feed and what you find entertaining. use that to decide what unique spin you can contribute to the digital sphere.
  • post worthwhile content and the followers will come. updating peeps on your every waking moment may not be the way to go…just saying.
  • follow, like and engage with other writers, designers and creative groups (like The Copy Lab!) to make connections and help get your name out there.
  • not everything you post must (nor should) be work-related. social media lets your individual spark shine bright — a valuable tool as you aim to differentiate your voice in the crowd.
  • make the time to proofread. typos abound on the web, but your feeds should reflect your professional prowess.

remember, your personal brand’s social media campaign is a public venture. it has the potential to be far reaching and impactful, so it’s worth taking the time to devise a strategy. learn as you go, try different approaches and, most importantly, have fun with it.

let’s all learn together! please share your thoughts, tips and social experiences (good and bad). leave comments below or connect with us on Twitter and Facebook.

by meredith clinton bell

email copy that equals stellar sales

need help connecting the dots between your email copy and its sales results? sophie donelson, editorial director of C. Wonder and Monika Chiang, presented pertinent tips on how to make your subject lines, headlines and subheads rock the analytic charts. here are a few quick tidbits from our charming guest speaker if you weren’t able to join us:

tap the inverted pyramid technique.the inverted pyramid
break out your notes from journalism class and use this article-writing tactic to prioritize your message. the premise is simple: the most important info goes at the top, followed by significant details, followed by the least newsworthy stuff.

grammar rules: bend (or break!) them.
emails should be evocative and stir feelings. do whatever you have to do to make them that way. have a field day playing with fragments, hyphens and weird punctuation as long as your message stays clear.

subject lines: don’t get in the way of what’s tried and true.

new arrivals
sale!
introducing [insert new product]

you might balk at these subject lines because they seem so… blah. but sometimes what seems boring is actually just a straightforward way to get results — according to sophie, the three lines above are almost fail-proof when it comes to scoring good open rates. want some extra oomph? sophie swears by an ellipsis to add intrigue and up your opens.

stay out of spam: avoid these words.
don’t use the words “free,” “help,” “reminder” or “percent off” (the symbol % is okay though) in the subject line and you’ll help keep the email from the junk folder.

think of the subject line as a promise.
then ensure your content fulfills that promise once the email is opened. sophie offered a tip she read at copyblogger.com, a writing resource she recommends: the best subject lines tell what’s inside, the worst sell what’s inside.

hop online to cwonder.com and monikachiang.com and sign up for their mailing list to check out some of these tips in action.

we’ll see you next month (tuesday, march 12th to be exact) when brand strategist jean railla discusses the digital frontier and the space where brands and culture collide. reserve now to save your spot!

–kelley granger